The future of the manufacturing industry lies in education—and Dearborn’s Henry Ford Community College is aiming to ensure that southeast Michigan blazes the trail toward new technologies and new jobs.
HFCC will lead a multistate consortium of community colleges and industry partners that recently received a $15 million grant through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training initiative. The consortium will use the funding to create high-tech job training opportunities for workers in the manufacturing sector.
“What the $15 million will do for the college is enormous,” said HFCC President Gail Mee at a recent town hall discussion on the topic.
“The skills needed these days in manufacturing are different than those of the past," she added. "We see this as an opportunity to transform manufacturing education.”
Specifically, explained HFCC Head of Corporate Training Gary Saganski, that means trying to “bring a factory into a classroom in a genuine way—an authentic way.”
Portable systems that replicate—in much smaller scale—the functions of a manufacturing plant will do just that for HFCC students who choose to opt into the community college’s new program.
It’s been a longtime goal of the college, Saganski added, but one that required a lot more funding, including $205,000 for each machine. The grant will fully fund those costs, including purchasing the systems, marketing and improving the degree program, and providing career counseling for students.
The last part is especially important, given that the goal of the program is not just to train students, but to prepare them for actual jobs in the manufacturing industry—be it automobiles, steel, or plastics.
Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers Director Jay Williams explained that the industry is expanding for the first time since the 1990s, meaning the addition of more than 530,000 jobs in the last 30 months.
But for applicants, wanting a position doesn't mean getting one. As factories become more computerized, a higher level of education is necessary to operate, maintain and fix such systems.
“Investing in manufacturing is not enough,” Williams said. “That’s why we’re investing in our community colleges.”
HFCC, in turn, is partnering with local industry names—including Ford Motor Company, Chrysler, Severstal, and Marathon Oil—to ensure that the training their providing matches the needs of the companies.
And community partners are also on board, including the City of Dearborn and ACCESS, which provides job placement services for southeast Michigan residents.
ACCESS Executive Director Hassan Jaber said new training is exactly what’s needed to help more people find jobs.
“We are seeing a mismatch between skills and the job market,” he shared. “This investment in our community is going to make an amazing difference in closing this gap.”